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Hospital stands by nurses in harassment trial

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, October 23, 2012

The nurses who were at the center of a maternity ward kerfuffle with Douglas Kennedy are just looking for a payday, according to a lawyer for Kennedy, whose trial for physical harassment and child endangerment started Monday.

The son of the late Robert Kennedy was involved in a Jan. 7 confrontation with two nurses at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, NY. According to media reports, the nurses allege that Kennedy twisted one of their wrists and kicked the other when they tried to stop him from taking his newborn son outside for some "fresh air."

Surveillance camera footage of the incident shows the nurses trying to block Kennedy from leaving via the elevator and then the stairs. It also shows one of the nurses falling to the floor. The nurses said they called code pink, indicating child abduction.

I first wrote about this incident back in February when it became public, and concluded that although it obviously stemmed from a misunderstanding between Mr. Kennedy and hospital staffers, I was baffled as to why it couldn't have been resolved verbally.

Somehow, the misunderstanding turned violent, and instead of simply taking the time to explain himself to the nurses, Mr. Kennedy allegedly resorted to pushing, grabbing, and even kicking.

In a statement provided to HealthLeaders Media in February, the hospital said, "At Northern Westchester Hospital, patient safety is our priority and we completely support the actions of our nursing staff in this case as they were clearly acting out of concern for the safety of a newborn baby."

Readers of my column expressed their dismay over what happened between Mr. Kennedy and the nurses. They noted, however, their gratitude toward Northern Westchester Hospital for supporting the actions of the nurses in the wake of such a high-profile case.

"Congratulations to the nurses for doing their duty. Congratulations to the hospital's administration for standing behind their nurses 100%," one online commenter wrote.

"At the end, I am glad that the hospital is supportive of it's [sic] nurses," wrote another.

The hospital stuck by its nurses, despite the might of the Kennedy name, despite the fact that one of the physician witnesses (who's also a family friend of Kennedy) called the nurses the "only aggressors."

That the hospital publicly showed its unwavering support is an important element of this story. I've written a lot about the importance of nurses feeling supported in their work. Having supported nurses help boost employee morale, reduce medication errors, and even improve a hospital's bottom line.

Perhaps the proof is in the pudding at Northern Westchester Hospital, which has a long list of quality accolades. For example, it was recognized in September in the Joint Commission's annual report, Improving America's Hospitals, as a top performer in key quality measures. It was also recently recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of New York's leading regional hospitals.

Showing support for nurses is important when it comes to matters like improved quality, but it's also crucial for ensuring their safety. Many studies have shown that violence against healthcare workers is alarmingly prevalent, including a brand new one from the Merit Systems Protection Board.

That report, Employee Perceptions of Federal Workplace Violence, concluded that "employees who experience the largest incidence of client-based workplace violence are employees in the healthcare industry," particularly nurses. Also, women were more likely to be victims of workplace violence than men.

Violence against nurses is bad enough, but now these nurses are at the center of a very public trial. What a relief it must to at least have the hospital on their side, and what a relief to the other nurses who know that the hospital will back them up when they're trying to do their jobs.

Source: HealthLeaders Media